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Rishad calls for Presidential Commission

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Illegal settlements inside forest reserves

Minister of Industry and Commerce and Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen has called for the appointment of a Presidential Commission to probe allegations of unauthorized settlements inside forest reserves. The minister made this revelation in response to a query raised by The Nation regarding allegations that under the minister’s blessings, people were continuing to be illegally resettled in the North after clearing away of protected forest lands.

“I will be meeting President Maithripala Sirisena during the next few days and will make a written request that he appoint a three-member Presidential Commission to probe these allegations. I am prepared to be investigated by this commission and will face any punishment if it finds that I have been involved in wrongdoing,” he stressed.

The latest allegation against the minister is that illegal settlements are being built in the Periyamadhu area in the Mannar district by clearing away forested lands that fall under the Madhu Forest Reserve. However, when contacted, Bathiudeen strongly refuted the allegations.

He described Periyamadhu as an old Muslim village whose residents had been driven away by the LTTE in 1990. These families had been living in temporary camps in Puttalam before the armed forces liberated their lands, he said.

The minister elaborated that during the previous government, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a Presidential Task Force to look into resettlement in the North. The lands were released after due process, he claimed. Executive Director of the Center for Environment Justice, Hemantha Withanage however, said the situation in the area was grave indeed, with hundreds of acres having already been cleared away. “We wrote to President Maithripala Sirisena on Thursday (April 30) expressing utmost concern regarding the situation and urging him to take action,” he revealed.

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